Everything you read online may be a lie.
If you don’t believe me, read Inc. magazine’s opinion piece, “Does Social Media Content Have Any Credibility?” (spoiler alert: it doesn’t) The essay points out that there is no quality control for social media or online content, and that social validation is a not a reliable indicator of credibility.
Go back and re-read that last sentence. Odds are it’s not true because you read it online. If you were referred to this article from a link on social media, there is a high likelihood nothing I’m writing is true…. but I encourage you to read on anyhow.
In Guy Kawasaki’s new book Author Publisher Entrepreneur, he discusses the process of having a book published by a major publishing house. Kawasaki explains that it takes more than a year to get a typical book published. A book receives about a month of publicity from the publishing house and then nothing. Bearing that in mind, the author’s explanation for why published work is more credible than online content doesn’t add up:
“Before the internet age, if you read a nonfiction book or an article in a publication, you could reasonably assume the writer was credentialed, either as a subject matter expert, a journalist, or a commentator.”
What constitutes a credential? In Nate Silver’s great book The Signal and the Noise, he describes that the most compelling television commentators are the most rigid in their beliefs and are far less accurate in their predictions than people that are more pragmatic. The fact of the matter is that popularity and the capability to sell books with a month of publicity is far more important to get an esteemed “credential” from a major publishing house. A tremendously qualified person with an unmarketable idea for a book won’t get published.
Of course there is a qualitative difference between some online authors and others, but guess what? There is a qualitative difference between published authors as well.
Why discredit online publishing?
There’s a great State Farm Insurance commercial where one of the characters (an attractive woman) proclaims that “they can’t put anything on the internet unless it’s true.” Then she introduces her date, an unsightly fellow who claims to be a French model. While this perpetuates the same mythology about online content, it’s also illustrative:
How come comparatively attractive people couple?
Dan Ariely discusses it in his book, Predictably Irrational. We basically adjust our standards to our level of attractiveness. But if people believe so many online falsehoods, how come there aren’t more attractive women dating unattractive “French models?” Or more pertinently, what specific ill-advised actions are people taking because of someone’s internet lies? The answer is that they’re not.
Online publishing enables a stream-of-consciousness, a timeliness and social validation that is not repeatable by traditional publishing. Would you rather get SEO insight from a book that was written a year ago, or from Rand Fishkin every Friday? Would you rather read about social media marketing tests and studies done a year ago (or five) or read about them in near-real-time from Christopher Penn? Would you rather read Nate Silver’s projections about the Presidential election as new data is received or next year?
You may say that I cherry-picked those bloggers and you’re right: I did. I used my judgment to determine who I find the most credible…. and that’s my point. I’ve also read a lot of hideous books that have been written by published authors. Thousands of bloggers with an editor, copy-editor and free time could write a much more credible, useful book than a lot of the stuff that gets published by publishing houses.
The real losers
I don’t feel bad for discredited bloggers. Bloggers as a collective are accustomed to being under-appreciated. It’s doubtful many people using social media (you know, nearly everyone) will lose sleep that there are people who think they are liars who love lying despite their lying liar-pants catching on fire.
As I read a lot of missives about how Gen Y are enabled and indignant, I can’t help drawing a parallel with those opinions and the “don’t believe anything on the internet” crowd. After all, what has a twenty-five year old done that warrants listening to her opinion? What has anyone on social media accomplished that warrants considering what they have to say? These skeptics aren’t tastemakers, they’re Luddites (albeit Luddites that write for Inc. magazine among other places).
The big shock to these people is going to be Generation Z. The post-Gen Y generation will have grown up in an environment where their opinion has always been important and considered. They will have been immersed in technology and will be far more efficient then any generation before because of this experience. How do you justify not listening to a person who is more efficient or possibly more effective than you? You can discredit them outright, but they’ll simply go be more efficient and effective someplace that they’ll be heard. If people choose to discredit everything they see online and in social media, that’s their prerogative. But advocating for others to follow suit is like advocating for collective obsolescence.
I’m a certified skeptic, but I see an inordinate amount of value in online and social content. I think that anyone who doesn’t is deluded and antiquated.